LOS ANGELES – A local emergency has been declared due to coronavirus concerns in Los Angeles County as the number of confirmed cases rose to 14 as of Saturday afternoon.
The L.A. County Public Health Department said their goal is ramp up the preparedness efforts to keep the virus from continuing to spread in Southern California. The latest case was from a person who returned from Washington D.C. where there was a known exposure from a person who tested positive.
Eight of the cases were from people traveling together in Northern Italy. Three of the other cases were from people who came into contact with family members from out of the county who tested positive. Another case was from a screener at the Los Angeles International Airport who contracted the infection. The last case was from a person whose job exposed them to travelers from other countries who might have been infected.
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“We must all remain vigilant,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair, Kathryn Barger. “These actions will allow us to have even greater coordination to protect our more than 10 million residents and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Five of the new cases are currently being monitored through home quarantine, while one of the cases is currently in the hospital. Another person is in an isolated quarantine.
The declaration was made out of abundance of caution, according to health officials. The Los Angeles Public Health testing labs are increasing their capacity for coronavirus testing with the kits they have received from the Centers for Disease Control. More tests from CDC are currently on the way to L.A.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he signed the local emergency declaration Wednesday morning, but urged the community not to panic. Garcetti said the declaration of a local emergency allows for access to additional resources to help the area prepare and respond to the infection.
Public Health Supervisor Hilda Solis gave recommendations for the community to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Solis suggested residents use “simple social distancing practices,” which means staying at least six feet away from people you don’t know.
Businesses should make sure all bathrooms are well stocked with soap and sanitization supplies to ensure that people can wash their hands effectively and efficiently. Additionally, businesses are asked to provide the option to allow employees to work from home if they are sick or avoid financial penalty for missing a day of work.
At the Los Angeles International Airport gloves are being given to every single employee, in addition to heightened sanitation efforts in public spaces and in bathrooms once an hour. International travelers will be closely monitored and tested if they appear to be at risk of contracting the infection. There will also be 250 additional hand sanitizing stations installed at LAX.
"What this is is a call for preparedness, know what you might do if we see an explosion of cases,” said Solis. “Fear will not drive our response to this virus. Rather, we will prepare and implement our proven prevention strategies to effectively protect the public.”
The Department of Homeland Security also confirmed that a contract worker who was conducting medical screenings of passengers at LAX was infected after being exposed to travelers from other countries who may have been infected with the virus.
"Late last night, DHS headquarters was alerted to a situation where one of our contracted medical professionals conducting screenings at LAX international airport had tested positive for COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. This individual is currently under self-quarantine at home with mild symptoms and under medical supervision. Their immediate family is also under home quarantine," DHS spokesperson, Heather Swift in a statement.
Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, before eating, after coughing, and after sneezing. Sneezes and coughs should be covered with a tissue and immediately thrown away after usage. People should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
While there is not a coronavirus vaccine at the moment, immunization against the flu is recommended by LA County Public Health. Anyone who is sick is advised to stay home and call their doctor or go to a clinic before returning to work.
It is also advised to avoid touching surfaces that are shared with others like door handles and counters.
So far one person has died from the coronavirus in California, as stated in an announcement from Placer County Public Health. The person was elderly with other health conditions and had just returned from a cruise that went from San Francisco to Mexico. The person tested positive this week in a California lab and was isolated at Kaiser Permanente Roseville.
Placer County Public Health is working to contact the other cruise passengers who may have been exposed. The 10 healthcare workers and five emergency first responders who came into contact with the patient before being isolated are now in quarantine.
Statewide 10 health labs are receiving testing kits from the CDC.